37 days and one year later: part 7: down time and keeping everything charged

This is part seven of a series of posts discussing various aspects of a bike trip I did across the United States in 2012. Part one discussed the start of the trip and choosing a route. Part two discussed my daily routine and nightly shelter. Part three discussed general mileage, elevation encountered, and state-by-state scenery. Part four discussed mileage extremes and water. Part five discussed food. Part six discussed elevation extremes, particularly crossing the Continental Divide at Monarch Pass. This post discusses what I did when I was off my bike each day, and how I kept various electronics charged.

Reading during down time

I biked seven to nine hours a day most days, but as long as I roughly kept moving, I’d have down time each day beyond what I’d need for eating and sleeping. With space and weight at a premium, the obvious answer was an ebook reader. So I finally went and got a Kindle: a touch version with 3G, as I expected I might often be places without wifi. I definitely put it to good use, reading these books while gone:

The Kindle worked extremely well as entertainment: minimal weight and volume, a very wide selection, and (via a case with built-in light) amenable to use anywhere, including inside a tent in darkness. I’d often pull it out over lunch and do some reading while eating, and a handful of times I stopped mid-day and sat and read for awhile. But most of my reading happened just before I went to sleep. I carried headphones and listened to music previously loaded on the Kindle as I read, sometimes. Amazon wasn’t kidding when they called it “experimental”: not even the slightest bit of control over the organization of music, just a single linear playlist based entirely on file creation times. It was adequate, but it certainly wasn’t fully satisfactory.


One issue presented by reading on a Kindle, and by a phone, and by a rechargeable-battery-powered head light with ~3h life (depending on mode), and by a camera with rechargeable battery, was a constant need for power outlets to recharge everything. I barely used (and shouldn’t have brought) the camera, so charging that was never an issue. The others I plugged in every chance I got at the end of the day.

The light needed recharging most often, depending on my recent evening cycling hours. Generally, however, I didn’t bike too long after dark, so the head light never ran too low on me. (I did have two consecutive days with night riding in Kansas where I ran it down to near-empty the second night, and I had a weak backup light ready for use when needed. But I timed it near-perfectly to arrive probably 15-30 minutes before my main light ran out of battery, so I never used the backup, except as a makeshift flashlight when camping.)

I used the phone, plugged in, as an alarm clock when I stayed in motels. (I used my watch for this when camping, due to battery concerns.) Except when plugged in, I turned the phone on only to take pictures or make calls, so its battery didn’t require particular recharging diligence.

The Kindle, of course, required the least recharging effort. Its non-power-drawing screen, and my turning off wireless use, let it do fine with only an occasional recharge. (Although I’m sure the light in the case compensated to some extent for its low power consumption.)

Had I used a GPS unit, I’d have had to plug that in as well, and I’d have needed to charge it more often than I needed to charge anything else I carried. Charging everything else was a minor hassle; I’m glad I didn’t have to deal with the same thing for a GPS unit too. (Although, to be fair, maps have their own problems. In addition to requiring a modicum of effort to not have to carry all ten maps for the full route the entire way, I lost one map out the back pocket of my cycling jersey one day, resulting in an uncomfortable day or so until I found a replacement.)

Next time, mechanical problems and assorted surprises.